The U.S. economy didn't end last year in the best shape. Further proof of that on Thursday sent markets into a tizzy, bouncing from gains to losses.
At the close, they were little changed, with the S&P 500 up 0.15%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 0.49%, and the Nasdaq rising 0.12%.
The unpredictable moves might carry through to the end of the week. The monthly jobs report, due out Friday, is arguably the most important piece of data of the month and will paint a picture of how the U.S. economy fared in the start to a new year.
Economists expect 192,000 jobs to have been added to the U.S. economy, its lowest level since September. The unemployment rate will likely hold steady at 5%.
"The slowdown in the rate of job creation is not unusual," noted Deutsche Bank analysts. "As our work has shown, employment gains always tend to slow when the unemployment rate approaches 5%, and history appears to be repeating in this regard."
Whatever the read, the January jobs report will be dissected through the lens of what this means for the Federal Reserve's future rate hike plans. The central bank raised rates for the first time in nine years in December with a robust labor market cited as one of the reasons members felt comfortable doing so.
U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter last year looks to have been even worse than expected after a disappointing read on factory orders in December. U.S. factory orders declined for the fourth time in five months and at its steepest pace in roughly a year, the Commerce Department reported Thursday, as activity slowed in the face of weakness from the energy sector and a stronger dollar.
Goldman Sachs analysts revised their fourth-quarter GDP estimate to 0.4% growth, reflecting lower inventory accumulation and weaker construction spending. The Commerce Department pegged fourth-quarter growth at 0.7% in its first estimate released last week.
The U.S. dollar weakened against a basket of international currencies on Thursday following worse-than-expected data on the domestic economy. The weaker currency made U.S.-made products cheaper for international buyers, a prospect that boosted commodities stocks.
In the basic materials sector, Alcoa (AA - Get Report) , Monsanto (MON) , Freeport-McMoRan (FCX - Get Report) and Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM - Get Report) jumped, while the Materials Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLB - Get Report) climbed 2.2%.
CBS (CBS - Get Report) shares added 1% after long-time chairman Sumner Redstone resigned, with CEO Leslie Moonves named as his successor. Redstone also stepped down from his role as chairman of Viacom (VIA.B) , a company he founded. CEO Phillipe Dauman has been named to that role. The 92-year-old Redstone's mental faculties have been in question with some investors calling for new leadership recently.
A massive wave of earnings reports from industry giants including Credit Suisse (CS - Get Report) and ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) kept trading active. So far, 59% of S&P 500 companies have reported, with 69% reporting earnings above estimates. Average earnings have fallen 4.2%. Excluding energy, earnings have increased 2%.
ConocoPhillips fell 8% after further reducing its full-year capital expenditure plans and cutting its quarterly dividend amid a struggle with low oil prices. The company reduced its quarterly dividend to 25 cents a share from 74 cents.
Credit Suisse tumbled 10% after announcing plans to cut roughly 4,000 jobs to reduce costs. The financial institution also announced a massive pretax loss in the fourth quarter. It reported a pretax quarterly loss of 6.4 billion francs, including a 3.8-billion-franc impairment charge linked to its acquisition of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette investment bank in 2000.
GoPro (GPRO - Get Report) slumped after reporting a net loss of 8 cents a share, compared to estimates of a break-even quarter. The action camera maker warned it expects current-quarter sales no higher than $180 million, well below estimates of $291 million. GoPro also named Brian McGee as its new chief financial officer, effective March 11.
AstraZeneca (AZN - Get Report) fell after warning of lower earnings this fiscal year on higher research and development costs. The drugmaker said weaker profit forecasts were tied to softer demand for Crestor, its cholestrol treatment, as its patent expires this year.